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Index » Radio Paradise/General » General Discussion » Nuclear power - saviour or scourge? Page: Previous  1, 2, 3 ... 22, 23, 24
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dionysius

dionysius Avatar

Location: The People's Republic of Austin
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 5:29pm

 islander wrote:

I like this analogy. But I'm surprised that given your view of climate change (a correct one I think) that you are worried about this. We have a far better chance of figuring out what to do with/how to properly label nuclear waste if we use this tool to fix the larger climate problem. Else the ensuing climate catastrophe/flood/famine/riots/ handfull will render our current nuclear sites (and possibly melted down nuclear plants, and piles of nuclear weapons) just as much a future landmine for whatever species manages to figure out how to survive the new environment we create.

I think it's even more shortsighted to wait for a better solution while plunging headlong into the void. Do what we can when we can.

 

I just want a bigger effort made towards fusion (with solar, geothermal and wind energy utilized as stopgaps until such time as it is feasible). Then we can abandon the poisonous carbon and fission technologies altogether.
islander

islander Avatar

Location: Seattle
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 5:26pm

 dionysius wrote:


The rewards of a successful R&D effort towards commercially viable fusion would indeed be very great (some of that research is going on right here at UT Austin). But the economics of this R&D still just don't make sense for private utilities and energy companies. Exxon-Mobil and BP would just not be making the same kind of record profits selling ultracheap fusion kilowatts than it would selling post-peak oil to the carbon junkie market. Why throw their money after it. when the public sector is doing the work for them? As one might expect, the international public/university consortium ITER in France are out front in fusion research, and might have something online by 2050. Still a wait, but within the lifetimes of many now living. This will change the game entirely.  

And I'm astonished to see that you think storage of fission waste is mostly political. Even finding the right geology to store waste for millennia and millennia is a challenge, and it will remain a poisonous reminder of our short-sightedness into a distant future we can't even imagine. This would be like stepping on landmines left by the Sumerians, only over an even greater timeline.

 
I like this analogy. But I'm surprised that given your view of climate change (a correct one I think) that you are worried about this. We have a far better chance of figuring out what to do with/how to properly label nuclear waste if we use this tool to fix the larger climate problem. Else the ensuing climate catastrophe/flood/famine/riots/ handfull will render our current nuclear sites (and possibly melted down nuclear plants, and piles of nuclear weapons) just as much a future landmine for whatever species manages to figure out how to survive the new environment we create.

I think it's even more shortsighted to wait for a better solution while plunging headlong into the void. Do what we can when we can.


Lazy8

Lazy8 Avatar

Location: The Gallatin Valley of Montana
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 2:45pm

dionysius wrote:
The rewards of a successful R&D effort towards commercially viable fusion would indeed be very great (some of that research is going on right here at UT Austin). But the economics of this R&D still just don't make sense for private utilities and energy companies. Exxon-Mobil and BP would just not be making the same kind of record profits selling ultracheap fusion kilowatts than it would selling post-peak oil to the carbon junkie market. Why throw their money after it. when the public sector is doing the work for them? As one might expect, the international public/university consortium ITER in France are out front in fusion research, and might have something online by 2050. Still a wait, but within the lifetimes of many now living. This will change the game entirely.

Assuming it works, or that the eventual solution (if any) looks even remotely like what ITER is doing. ITER will not generate usable power, it's an experimental setup. Those involved are happy just to be working on the problem; if it doesn't ultimately produce anything usable they had their fun and still got paid. This is the difference between basic research (which the for-profit private sector does poorly) and people driven by curiosity rather than profit: when your own money is on the line you invest it where you think it has a decent chance of paying off. Real discoveries seldom happen on a schedule.

And that post-peak oil market is going to have a lot fewer customers if somebody can make fusion work. But I suppose if that day comes we can always subsidize the oil industry as a pointless, inefficient money-bleeding sop thrown to senators from oil states. Like Amtrak or the sugar industry.

And I'm astonished to see that you think storage of fission waste is mostly political. Even finding the right geology to store waste for millennia and millennia is a challenge, and it will remain a poisonous reminder of our short-sightedness into a distant future we can't even imagine. This would be like stepping on landmines left by the Sumerians, only over an even greater timeline.

The really dangerous hard radiation-emitting waste is actually a small fraction of the waste produced by nuclear power; most of it is low-level stuff contaminated in maintenance and use (like used bunny suits).

For instance the beta sources I work with emit so little radiation (beta particles—you can stop all but an undetectable fraction with two sheets of paper or about a foot of air) that they could be legally sold as food. The health risks associated with that level and type of radiation is miniscule, but since the sources are classified as hazardous they have to be handled with extreme and very expensive care. Stuff like this constitutes the bulk of the radioactive waste we're talking about.

Yes, it will be radioactive for thousands of years, but so will some of the soil it's buried in. You could probably walk around the house you're living in or a national park and find completely natural sources that give off more radiation than a ton of this stuff buried a foot underground. And we have lots of places we could put it a lot farther away from humans than that. We have some good solutions for stabilization and storage (vitrification and burial in  offshore subduction zones, for instance) but in the current political climate they can't be used.

Regardless of how good a solution we come up with it will meet reflexive opposition—there are people simply unalterably opposed to anything to do with nuclear power. That's not a technical problem, but it remains the single biggest obstacle.

Nonetheless waste raises the cost and complexity of fission power. If we can find a way to fusion power (or some other holy grail technology) then we can stop generating that waste. If we can't then we need fission anyway and we need to start using it. It already works.

dionysius

dionysius Avatar

Location: The People's Republic of Austin
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 10:44am

 Lazy8 wrote:
 dionysius wrote:
Fission reactors, even the fast breeders, will inevitably leave us with the problem of what to do with the waste. And they'll leave us with that problem for a very, very long time. That's not the kind of legacy I'd like to leave to our great-great-great...great-great-great-grandchildren. They're even puzzling about how to label such dangerous waste storage sites, since few people in ten thousand years are likely to know English. (And this is assuming the best case scenario, that humans and human civilization is still around then.) I don't think that fission is the way forwards.

However, fusion nuclear energy may indeed be the magic bullet. Very safe. Little or no waste problem, and the fuel? You're soaking in it. Limitless cheap electricity, which may be the rub, capitalism-wise. The private energy sector is never going to pour billions and billions into the R&D necessary to develop fusion energy, because the net return would be so low. This would take a huge public investment, then, and a big public effort is likely to generate opposition from those who are married to the old carbon and fission industries, because fusion would put them out of business. Politics will never end.

Fusion is not the 200 mpg carburetor bought up and embargoed by evilgreedy running dog capitalist oil companies. It hasn't happened because it's really really hard. And if it does happen those evilgreedy running dogs left holding the petroleum bag will indeed be out of business...motivating them to get on board when it becomes feasible and/or find something else to do with all that oil. Exxon-Mobile's shareholders don't care how it makes money.

The public sectors of many countries have already poured billions into fusion research and have next to nothing to show for it. Maybe they never will. We can't count on a technology that may not even be possible.

The problem of storing fission waste isn't nearly as difficult a technical problem as it is a political problem. We know how to build, run, and fuel fission reactors. If fusion comes along we can stop building them, but that's a decision I'd like to make with the lights on.
 

The rewards of a successful R&D effort towards commercially viable fusion would indeed be very great (some of that research is going on right here at UT Austin). But the economics of this R&D still just don't make sense for private utilities and energy companies. Exxon-Mobil and BP would just not be making the same kind of record profits selling ultracheap fusion kilowatts than it would selling post-peak oil to the carbon junkie market. Why throw their money after it. when the public sector is doing the work for them? As one might expect, the international public/university consortium ITER in France are out front in fusion research, and might have something online by 2050. Still a wait, but within the lifetimes of many now living. This will change the game entirely.  

And I'm astonished to see that you think storage of fission waste is mostly political. Even finding the right geology to store waste for millennia and millennia is a challenge, and it will remain a poisonous reminder of our short-sightedness into a distant future we can't even imagine. This would be like stepping on landmines left by the Sumerians, only over an even greater timeline.
(former member)

(former member) Avatar



Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 10:38am

ITER


Lazy8

Lazy8 Avatar

Location: The Gallatin Valley of Montana
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 10:28am

 dionysius wrote:
Fission reactors, even the fast breeders, will inevitably leave us with the problem of what to do with the waste. And they'll leave us with that problem for a very, very long time. That's not the kind of legacy I'd like to leave to our great-great-great...great-great-great-grandchildren. They're even puzzling about how to label such dangerous waste storage sites, since few people in ten thousand years are likely to know English. (And this is assuming the best case scenario, that humans and human civilization is still around then.) I don't think that fission is the way forwards.

However, fusion nuclear energy may indeed be the magic bullet. Very safe. Little or no waste problem, and the fuel? You're soaking in it. Limitless cheap electricity, which may be the rub, capitalism-wise. The private energy sector is never going to pour billions and billions into the R&D necessary to develop fusion energy, because the net return would be so low. This would take a huge public investment, then, and a big public effort is likely to generate opposition from those who are married to the old carbon and fission industries, because fusion would put them out of business. Politics will never end.

Fusion is not the 200 mpg carburetor bought up and embargoed by evilgreedy running dog capitalist oil companies. It hasn't happened because it's really really hard. And if it does happen those evilgreedy running dogs left holding the petroleum bag will indeed be out of business...motivating them to get on board when it becomes feasible and/or find something else to do with all that oil. Exxon-Mobile's shareholders don't care how it makes money.

The public sectors of many countries have already poured billions into fusion research and have next to nothing to show for it. Maybe they never will. We can't count on a technology that may not even be possible.

The problem of storing fission waste isn't nearly as difficult a technical problem as it is a political problem. We know how to build, run, and fuel fission reactors. If fusion comes along we can stop building them, but that's a decision I'd like to make with the lights on.

dionysius

dionysius Avatar

Location: The People's Republic of Austin
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 10:05am

 MrsHobieJoe wrote:
I need to read the article but simply put my heart says no, my head says yes so I have to go with the rational argument.  Therefore I'm for it- I also don't have any baggage on this one- I wasn't sufficiently interested in the 1980s to be in CND or anything like that.

It would be difficult to accomplish our planned reduction in CO2 without nuclear (although it sometimes seems like we can't accomplish anything on climate change without everyone GOING nuclear).

 

Fission reactors, even the fast breeders, will inevitably leave us with the problem of what to do with the waste. And they'll leave us with that problem for a very, very long time. That's not the kind of legacy I'd like to leave to our great-great-great...great-great-great-grandchildren. They're even puzzling about how to label such dangerous waste storage sites, since few people in ten thousand years are likely to know English. (And this is assuming the best case scenario, that humans and human civilization is still around then.) I don't think that fission is the way forwards.

However, fusion nuclear energy may indeed be the magic bullet. Very safe. Little or no waste problem, and the fuel? You're soaking in it. Limitless cheap electricity, which may be the rub, capitalism-wise. The private energy sector is never going to pour billions and billions into the R&D necessary to develop fusion energy, because the net return would be so low. This would take a huge public investment, then, and a big public effort is likely to generate opposition from those who are married to the old carbon and fission industries, because fusion would put them out of business. Politics will never end.
MrsHobieJoe

MrsHobieJoe Avatar

Location: somewhere in Europe
Gender: Female


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 9:48am

I need to read the article but simply put my heart says no, my head says yes so I have to go with the rational argument.  Therefore I'm for it- I also don't have any baggage on this one- I wasn't sufficiently interested in the 1980s to be in CND or anything like that.

It would be difficult to accomplish our planned reduction in CO2 without nuclear (although it sometimes seems like we can't accomplish anything on climate change without everyone GOING nuclear).
Lazy8

Lazy8 Avatar

Location: The Gallatin Valley of Montana
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 9:17am

 islander wrote:
I think we have led a parallel life. The director of my engineering program arranged for us to frequently tour and learn about power generation at Coors (they make a lot more than just beer). He was one of the first that I heard frequently espouse the "too many people" problem. He also said Nuclear is the only way we will be able to power the future. I always thought he was 15% old crank (he was), but he was right on most topics - this one included.

The technology problems are minor, it is the political, embedded business and PR problems that need to be overcome. We still need to conserve and do everything possible to be responsible stewards of the planet. But most people aren't going to make the necessary changes until we hit the catastrophe point in the story arc. Given that reality, I think we should do as much as possible to push that point out and make it as mild as possible. Nuclear is a big way to keep us viable along that path.

I haven't read beaker's link yet, but look at Europe: Small, standardized nuclear installations are the norm and are working.
 
I went to school across the road from General Atomic, and some of the profs consulted there. In one class one of the club presidents announced that a plant tour was available for those interested, and a protester showed up that day to disrupt the announcement. She didn't want us to go. Who knows, maybe we'd be bitten by radioactive insects and develop inappropriate super powers or something.

Call me crazy, but I'm one of those people who think that if you feel passionately about something you should actually understand it, that is understand the science as well as the politics. Before you grab pitchforks and torches and storm the castle of the evil Dr. Frankenstein. At that time this was clearly a minority view, and probably still is.

People who don't know an alpha particle from the alphabet have led the angry mobs. We have to get past that. As they finally admit that the oil and coal won't hold out forever, that solar and wind will meet only a tiny fraction of our needs, and that most of us aren't willing to live like the Unabomber maybe they can tell themselves that the technology has matured and it's different now.

It isn't, not that much. They were wrong then and if they march down the same path they'll be wrong again. If we had built and operated nuclear power plants on the scale that France did back then we probably wouldn't be having the greenhouse gas debate we are now, or at least we'd face much less draconian steps to mitigate the effects.

islander

islander Avatar

Location: Seattle
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 8:25am

 cc_rider wrote:
In college we had a prof. who was a big fan of nuclear power. He taught a number of  thermodynamics courses: tough stuff, and the basis for the mechanical engineering profession (steam engines, anyone?) We toured a number of local facilities, including the nuclear reactor at UT. Betcha didn't know there was one, huh? No matter. We knew he was grandstanding for nuclear power, but none of us felt any particular compunction about its feasibility. Yeah, it's a complicated problem, but hey, you ever been inside ANY power plant? It'll give 'rocket science' a run.

I think nuclear power in some form is the only way to sustain the kind of energy consumption we have, particularly as developing countries ramp up their per capita usage. I do not believe the technical hurdles are insurmountable. The political and societal hurdles are far less tractable, however.

 
I think we have led a parallel life. The director of my engineering program arranged for us to frequently tour and learn about power generation at Coors (they make a lot more than just beer). He was one of the first that I heard frequently espouse the "too many people" problem. He also said Nuclear is the only way we will be able to power the future. I always thought he was 15% old crank (he was), but he was right on most topics - this one included.

The technology problems are minor, it is the political, embedded business and PR problems that need to be overcome. We still need to conserve and do everything possible to be responsible stewards of the planet. But most people aren't going to make the necessary changes until we hit the catastrophe point in the story arc. Given that reality, I think we should do as much as possible to push that point out and make it as mild as possible. Nuclear is a big way to keep us viable along that path.

I haven't read beaker's link yet, but look at Europe: Small, standardized nuclear installations are the norm and are working.

cc_rider

cc_rider Avatar

Location: Bastrop
Gender: Male


Posted: Dec 7, 2009 - 8:13am

In college we had a prof. who was a big fan of nuclear power. He taught a number of  thermodynamics courses: tough stuff, and the basis for the mechanical engineering profession (steam engines, anyone?) We toured a number of local facilities, including the nuclear reactor at UT. Betcha didn't know there was one, huh? No matter. We knew he was grandstanding for nuclear power, but none of us felt any particular compunction about its feasibility. Yeah, it's a complicated problem, but hey, you ever been inside ANY power plant? It'll give 'rocket science' a run.

I think nuclear power in some form is the only way to sustain the kind of energy consumption we have, particularly as developing countries ramp up their per capita usage. I do not believe the technical hurdles are insurmountable. The political and societal hurdles are far less tractable, however.
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